Colourful characters

Photo:John Foster Forbes and family

John Foster Forbes and family

From the private collection of Patrick Benham

John Foster Forbes

By Patrick Benham

In June 2005 an enquiry on the website calling for information about John Foster Forbes got me writing, as I knew the man well in his last couple of years of life. I have been invited to post these thoughts on the site and the following is a slightly edited version of the original piece.

An eccentric
John Foster Forbes was in general terms what would be described as an eccentric. His last residence was a bed-sit in Regency Square where he lived with his corgi dog Rufus, opposite the then fully-functioning West Pier. He had been born under the sign of Taurus into a minor Scottish aristocratic family at Rothiemay Castle in Aberdeenshire in 1889, attended public school and Cambridge and served in the Great War as an army intelligence officer. Subsequent to this he took up school-mastering and even at one time ran his own school catering for just a handful of pupils. In those days Forbes was consuming considerable quantities of strong Turkish cigarettes and booze. Even so, he was developing a fascination for prehistory, and took to investigating the many Neolithic and Pictish monuments of his home county of Aberdeen.

Transition and the Order of the Cross
Before long Forbes fell into some kind of mid-life crisis and became very ill. It seems he was only rescued from this by the timely intervention of some kindly Scottish members of the Order of the Cross, a vegetarian and tee-total mystical fellowship founded in the early 1900s by the Rev John Todd Ferrier, a former Congregational minister, who was then still living.

Newly inspired and with restored health, John Forbes became a member of the Order and took to publishing tracts extolling the wisdom of the ancients and the high culture which he believed once existed in the British Isles, forging an amalgamation of Todd Ferrier's visionary teaching and biblical interpretations with his own interest in pre-Roman antiquities. He was much taken up with the Atlantis question and lectured frequently on that topic.

Quite a lot of the information he was putting out about the history of various sites was derived from the reports of certain psychics, notably Olive Pixley and Iris Campbell, who used to psychometrise the ancient stones with him, giving out their psychic impressions verbally at the various locations. One 'reading' by Miss Campbell was even taken at St Nicholas's churchyard in Brighton.

A solitary life
Forbes led a solitary life, moving around from one rented accommodation to another quite frequently, both in England and Scotland. For someone of his background, he hired himself out for remarkably menial tasks such as gardening and odd-jobbing to earn his daily crust. He was at one time living at Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire, and gave some radio broadcasts on the history of the place, which were also published in the BBC journal The Listener. This was in the late 1930s. A few years after this he did extensive research on the old rivers of London, overground and underground, and mailed the typed-up volumes representing hours of labour in a package addressed to the BBC in London. They claimed it never arrived; he had made no copies and did not feel inclined to set about the task again.

A late marriage
He married rather late in life to a woman even older than himself. They evidently resided at a place called Sele Court at Beeding. It was a pleasant time; Mrs Forbes was "very kind" to him, he recollected later, and there was easy access to the Downs for a spot of horse-riding whenever the mood took his fancy. It was not much of a marriage in the conventional sense. At some point the good lady died and left him a small legacy which he employed to finance his ongoing research projects. He then moved to Brighton.

UFOs
With the advent of the flying saucer phenomenon soon after the war he immediately made a connection between ancient sites and extraterrestrial visitations in the past. The wise ones from other worlds were returning! Somehow one of the national tabloids got wind of his activities and poured scorn on an unsuccessful attempt by Forbes, along with UFO-cult guru George King, to make contact with the new visitors by collecting together a group of sympathisers one night at Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire. The TV cameras were there and the paper next day bore the headline 'Appointment with Venus not Kept!'. He forever blamed the media for spoiling the intended outcome.

Personal connections
I first met John Foster Forbes during the winter of 1956/57 at the Brighton College of Arts and Crafts where I was a student and he was a costume (ie clothed) model. While we sat there drawing this rather interesting character, he would hold forth continuously on the topics discussed above, his dog at his feet. At other times we would go round to listen to more of all this in his rooms in Massingham's Vegetarian Hotel, Norfolk Terrace, a building which also housed the meeting place of the local branch of the Theosophical Society, where he would sometimes speak. A topic of those days for his public lectures was often "The Spiritual History of Brighton"!

A lasting influence
His next move was to Regency Square, as stated at the start. He died in July 1958 in the Brighton General Hospital after complications following an operation for peritonitis. He was 69. Although I now tend to think of many of his ideas as fanciful and unfounded, they were sincerely held and I willingly acknowledge that he has had a significant and lasting influence on the direction of my own life. His four self-published books were The Unchronicled Past, Giants of Britain, Ages not so Dark and The Castle and Place of Rothiemay.

You may also be interested to read the following article in which John Foster Forbes gives a psychometric reading of a stone: http://www.sussexarch.org.uk/saaf/qsm/qsm1.html#article2

 

Added to the site on 09-04-06 
This page was added on 26/06/2006.
Comments about this page
I also knew John Foster Forbes when he lived at West Street, Brighton, as he was a neighbour of ours around 1952/3.
By David Mander-Jones (31/08/2006)

What a fantastic photograph.

By M J Hall (15/12/2006)

John Foster Forbes is my 1st cousin twice removed. I am currently researching my family tree. Thanks for the information and the family photo.

By Shelley Dimmer (11/01/2007)

What a wonderful eccentric and a very interesting description of him that brings him alive.

By Edward Castle-Herbert (12/07/2007)

My friend Antony knew John Foster Forbes very well and used to describe some of his antics, with a wry smile. He had a profound passion for Todd Ferrier's teaching. Apparently Todd Ferrier recommended figs and honey as a 'soul food.' (Figs have a deeper spiritual significance) John Foster Forbes was full of little bits of information like that.

By Richard (25/08/2007)

I am writing a book on Atlantis. Can anyone tell me how to get a copy of Forbes' "Unchronicled Past"? The Kessinger edition listed by Amazon seems to be unavailable.

By Ronan Coghlan (14/04/2008)

Wow! I was amazed and delighted to stumble across your article. I have been fascinated by this gentleman since reading Giants of Britain, (purchased from a charity stall on a Cornish beach more than 15 years ago) I wrote to the address in Scotland mentioned in that book and received a very nice letter from the current residents who, sadly, could provide no further information about JFF. Years later, and still none the wiser, I purchased a signed copy of the Unchronicled Past from a seller in Australia and discovered that the Publishing House was The Ditchling Press, located only a mile from the house where I grew up. This inspired me to resume my investigations, but still I could find no information about the man or his life. Having recently moved to Brighton, I now discover from your article that JFF also lived here for part of his life. Thank you for the potted history which has, to some degree, sated my curiosity. Eccentric? Perhaps. Enlightened? Probably. Ahead of his time? In my opinion, most definitely.
I continue to scour the internet (as well as every second-hand and antiquarian bookshop I come across) in a bid to find a copy of Ages Not So Dark. If anyone knows the whereabouts of such a volume, please get in touch. Many thanks.

By Helen Beeches (05/05/2008)

Hello Patrick Benham, I really enjoyed your article about John Foster Forbes. I read about him in a book about Glastonbury Tor and his visit with Olive Pixley the psychic. My brother Rodney went to Brighton Art College and remembers going to John's home also, do you remember him? Finally, are you the same Patrick Benham that authored the fascinating book 'The Avalonians'?

By Alan Frost (30/05/2010)

Rod Frost? Yes, I definitely knew him. A very memorable character. He was a friend of the great Mike Blaker. But I did not know he ever went to see Foster Forbes. Interesting. Yes, too, I wrote that book. A kind of continuity from the early influence on my life of JFF and his ideas. Thanks for what you say, Alan. If you want to write more an initial email to this website can be forwarded to me. Better not to display addresses here.

By Patrick Benham (06/06/2010)

I am in the midst of the Avalonians and am enjoying it so much.

By Justin Downes (16/12/2010)

Thanks for that, Justin. No doubt you will have come across the mention of JFF in the book. He was a very close friend of Maria Saunders (aka Mary Bligh Bond) whose father Frederick Bligh Bond played a very prominent role in Glastonbury 1907-1924.

By Pat Benham (28/12/2010)

My great aunt Hilda Lomas did some of the illustrations for his books.  I have two with her drawings and am searching for the others (if she did any?).

By David Loach (23/03/2014)

It is most interesting that you are related to Hilda Lomas, David. I think you may have the same two of JFF's self-published books which have her excellent illustrations that I have: 'Giants of Britain' (1945) and 'The Castle and Place of Rothiemay' (1948). The photo at the top of this page is from the Rothiemay book. I have two other earlier publications, 'The Unchronicled Past' (1938) which has mainly photographs, and 'Ages not so Dark' (1939) which has illustrations by Antony Bates, so I presume there were not any others illustrated by your great aunt unless you have one I don't know about.

By Pat Benham (30/03/2014)

I've got number 263 of a run of 500 of The Unchronicled Past, numbered and signed by the great man himself. Fabulous book and great to read about his later life on this site.

By David Gray (20/11/2014)

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